MEETING OF OAKHAM TOWN COUNCIL
Wednesday, 16 February 2011 at 7.30 PM
On accepting apologies once again, Cllr Swiffin’s apologies were presented and voted upon. However this time the Clerk and Mayor went to some lengths to say that Cllr Swiffin last attended a meeting on 15 September (having not attended many meetings in 2010 prior to that meeting) and that his tenure on this Parish Council would be subject to Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972 after 15th March 2011. That means that the six-month rule on absences from Council meetings will not kick in until 15th March. The elections are in May and I wonder whether Cllr Swiffin will be standing for re-election.
The opacity of the last meeting of this Parish Council a fortnight ago was much reduced. Councillors were on their best behaviour. At the end of my report on the last meeting I wrote:
“I would beg the Standards Committee to ensure that one of their number attends every Oakham Town Council meeting to ensure that such disrespect for the democratic process is not repeated.”
The Standards Committee are to be congratulated on ensuring that a repetition of the wilful and vicious opacity of the last meeting of this Parish Council did not recur. It is a pity that this could only have been due to the presence of Mr Grimes, of the Standards Committee, who was greeted heartily by his first name. It seems that only if a senior teacher is on duty in this unruly playground will these children behave with a little decorum and respect for the democratic process.
However members of the public were again not given access to the appendices on the Council’s agenda and so were still unable to work out the finer points of items under discussion.
In particular item16: INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND SITE BACK UP (Appendix II) To consider recommendations from the Council’s I T provider regarding the above and to decide whether to authorise:
(i) purchase of Network Attached Storage
(ii) Off site back up for Council documentation
After the meeting I was shown copies of emails by a member of the public; emails from Andrew Viney of Millenium Ltd, 17 Midland Court, Oakham LE15 6RD; Viney@Millennium.ltd.uk to the Town Clerk, Richard White on the issue of item 16.
Both emails were dated 09 February 2011. The first email was sent at 09.19 and the second at 09.20. The first email gave three options for shared storage options:
1. Windows file sharing - £60 labour excluding VAT
2. Network attached strategy - £206.99 excluding VAT
3. Windows SBS server – cost between £1,500 and £3,000 depending on specification.
You will note that the agenda supposed that the Network Attached Storage - option 2 - was presupposed without considering items 1 and 3 or explaining the options to Councillors, who, I understand, did have a copy of these emails. However I must have missed the vote on (i) of item 16 of this agenda because I do not remember anyone actually proposing to vote for the second option on this email. Of course not having the appendices in front of one makes it very difficult to follow what is being discussed and what is being voted for.
The second email began:
“Richard, Further to your conversations with Nick please find prices for the managed online backup solution…
Prices per month: PC license £2.00
Per Gb £1,40”
The Clerk, Richard White, stated that only about 5Gb of information would need to be shared and stored, whether that was per month, annually or infinitely one could only guess. Cllr Adam Lowe did a quick calculation and worked out that this would mean a cost of around £9.00 per month.
The proposal was put to the meeting and seven Councillors voted to accept the quote with one, Cllr Lowe, voting against. Cllr Lowe did not speak on this item or explain why he had voted against it. But I was able to have a brief conversation, after the meeting closed, and it seems he has reservations on the lack of other tenders or quotes but feels too new to be able to properly grasp what is being done.
I too was more than a little confused and really wonder if the Clerk had made a decision prior to the meeting and just wanted his decision rubber stamped, with no possible quarter for discussion. That would beg the question - why?
But my own reservations go far deeper. Somehow the arrangement all seems rather too cosy. Who, for instance, is Nick? Does Nick have a surname and what is his connection to Millennium Ltd? Who are the Directors of Millennium Ltd, what sort of relationship do they have with Councillors or Officers? How close is Nick to the Clerk, Richard White? Is ‘Nick’ Cllr Nick Wainwright of Rutland County Council (DC)? If not, who is he? Has ‘Nick’ been leaving tasteless messages on Martin Brookes’ blog? Can we continue to tolerate a ‘no names no pack drill’ ethos on this Council?
Having asked for FOI data in the past I somehow doubt that this rather cosy arrangement, with a no surname seemingly local mate of the Clerk’s, can be truly relied upon for properly stored information retrievable for Freedom of Information purposes. Certainly copies of what I was given last year seemed to be incomplete.
So far as I was concerned Councillors voted on an expenditure of £9.00 per month and I completely missed a vote for item 2 on (i) of the agenda. Although Cllr Lowe voted against this item of expenditure he didn’t tell the meeting why he voted against it. Surely Cllr Lowe, having started so well in demanding fiscal probity with proper tenders and quotes, is not going to be cowed by an entrenched tradition of maladministration. Is he?
Item 12. LIBRARY TO CLOSE EARLY. It seems that RCC is proposing to cut the opening hours of Oakham library by two hours per week. A letter has been received asking for £2,500 from Oakham Town Council to subsidise the loss of these opening hours and continue to open during evenings when, through bad public transport, those who work outside the town might visit the library during the week. Oakham Town Council refused to augment the loss in budget and suggested that the library close an hour earlier on two of the three days when the library closes at 7pm. Since Mondays are unlikely to have a heavy footfall it would seem better to close at 5pm rather than 7 pm on Mondays in order to allow those who get back to Oakham after six pm to visit the library on Wednesdays and Fridays.
THE CLERK’S REPORT, under item 8, told us that there is to be a march past on 31 March for the two flights left at RAF Cottesmore as a final farewell. True to form Cllrs Dewis and Lucas made a bit of a song and dance over something the RAF itself seems to want to keep quite low key. We were told that the RAF is keen that this is not a repeat of the Freedom of Entry parade.
Cllr Lucas said: “My concern is that we have such a lot of armed forces retirees in Oakham… Such a shame for my husband and my neighbour.” I gather her husband and neighbour are both ex forces.
Frankly there is a sense of entitlement in those retirees from the forces who have settled in Oakham. The presence of people like ex-commando, ex-Councillor Paul Beech has been nothing if not a stain and a blot on the political complexion of Oakham. If men like that, who seem to think that being ex-forces allows them to transport the bullying ethos and anarchic thuggery of service life into the life of this town, had not been involved in local politics we might have a better run Parish Council.
I have recently been told by Martin Brookes, who assures me that he has blogged and has evidence that Rutland County Council’s ‘investment’ of M£2 with Brent Council (at half a per cent interest) coincided with, local business, Jeakins Weir’s contract payment from Brent Council. It may be remembered that a recent prize from the Conservative Association’s fund raising draw went to Col. Weir. When do coincidental loans or ‘investments’ of this order become political dynamite?
With our dilatory local press it seems this will never even become a political bone of contention.